The barbecue sauce washed right out of my hair, and the leg will be okay in a couple of weeks, really. My college homecoming was nice. Very nice.
Funny, but that campus is where some of the worst embarrassments of my young life took place. It’s like that’s what college was for — learning how to just make an utter fool of yourself, get up, dust off, and go on. I think that was my major.
I was the freshman club pledge who had to take to one knee and sing “If I Loved You” to a certain upperclasswoman each time I saw her. I saw her at this homecoming. She still loves me. It’s mutual. You sing that song that many times to someone, you bond.
There was the intramural basketball game after I’d stayed up all night studying and writing a paper. I felt like I was running in waist-deep water while all the other guys were going full speed. At its best, my full speed was slower than theirs. In this game, my best play — before I fouled out in the middle of the second quarter — was stepping aside and letting one of their guys score an own-goal on our end.
Poor sap probably studied all night.
My recurring nightmare — acquired at this very college — was being in a play and not knowing my lines. Any of them. When the curtain rose and the lights went down and the house was full, I was clueless. That never actually happened here, but I was in a couple of plays and the possibility haunted me for years.
In this very building, I remember a great fall. I was in a pickup basketball game I should not have been in. There were two 7-footers and we were running full-court and when most of these guys shot, I was looking at kneecaps. The game was being played somewhere up there above the rim, where I didn’t even know the ZIP code. Then suddenly, as I was loping back downcourt, the other team’s 7-footer got a fast break.
“I can break this up!” I lied to myself. “I can knock the ball away before he raises it to his shoulders, at which point I won’t be able to reach it anymore! I can do this!”
No. No, I couldn’t. I just got in his way. We got tangled and rolled off the court, like a human train wreck. He was the nicest guy in the world, but after we disengaged all those arms and legs (most of which were his) he picked me up by the scruff of the neck (yes, scruff) put his nose about 2 inches from mine and said something to the effect of, “If I get a breakaway, there’s nothing you can do about it. I’m seven feet tall! Just get out of my way!”
I said something to the effect of “Yes, sir.”
How ironic that a fall was one of my chief memories of this building.
My college has a gargantuan airplane hangar that served as our basketball arena when I was there, back in the 70s, and now serves as a recreation center and a venue for numerous other activities. Tonight, it hosted a very nice homecoming/fundraising dinner for 900 or so graduates, families and supporters.
There was a big stage at the front, and after my sister (also a graduate) and I went through the line to get barbecue and tea, I insisted that we go to the front and walk all the way across the room, hoping to spot someone I knew. My wife would have discouraged this, but she wasn’t there. And sure enough, I did see an old friend — at the exact moment I walked into the support leg for one of the giant screens that had been installed on either side of the stage so the vast audience could see the speakers.
Apparently, as I stepped with my left foot, I was almost up against this horizontal, 2-inch square steel bar. So when I moved my right foot forward, it encountered the steel bar with roughly the same velocity that a baseball bat encounters a ball, with my shinbone serving as the ball. With a loaded plate and a styrofoam tea glass filling my hands, and momentum carrying me forward, I executed, for those privileged to be watching, what was undoubtedly one of the greatest falls they’d ever seen.
The first thing that hit the parquet wood floor was my chest. The plate of barbecue kept me from getting a concussion. My hand crushed the tea glass just as it hit the floor. I did a very respectable imitation of a bug hitting a windshield. Dick Van Dyke would have been proud.
I started to just lie there, hoping no one would notice. But when the president of the university runs up to check on you, it brings a crowd. I jumped up and considered pretending nothing had happened. But the spatter pattern was something like a 6-foot, juicy moth would leave. I had to just own it.
Everyone was very nice. I tried to be witty and assured them I was alright and not the least bit litigious. A minute or so later, when the pain really hit my leg, I did make my way to a table to catch my breath. But I went back and got more food, worked the room, and explained to a few old girlfriends why my shirt was covered with iced tea and my hair was full of barbecue sauce.
I leave with one succinct observation, not scientifically verifiable, but accurate to my experience: If you fall on your face in a room with 900 people in it, approximately 11 will laugh, 10 will jump up to help, 5 will immediately start cleaning up and at least 2 will offer you food. The other 872 will not notice.
If this is viral on YouTube tomorrow, I may tweak those numbers a little.
I kinda hope it is. It was spectacular.